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Why Barry Harris’ Approach Is So Much Better Than Bebop Scales!

Bebop IS Modern Jazz

I hate Bebop scales, in fact, I never liked that approach to soloing because it always took away the part of the Bebop sound that I love the most, and this was even years before I knew what that was. Bebop is important, because Bebop IS the foundation for pretty much all modern Jazz, just like Christian McBride says:

“Let’s make something very clear.

Be-bop language is still modern-day language.”

For learning Bebop, There are important skills which are about Melody and flow and they are much more important for the sound than just what scale or which arpeggio to play, so I want to show you how that works so that you can start digging into that beautiful Bebop sound! I am a bit curious how many comments I am going to get from people who hate Bebop, but I am sure that more people love it!

Charlie Parker Is The Mozart Of Jazz

Charlie Parker’s solos completely blew my mind when I was just getting into Jazz. It was especially the Jazz Blues solos that I connected with, like this one on KC Blues.  In those solos, some of the phrases were very similar to the Blues I already knew from Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But there were these other melodies that sounded great but were completely different, and not at all about Blues. They made me incredibly curious, and I needed to figure out how they worked because they sounded great. And that is how I ended up getting into Jazz and finally getting a degree at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague.

What’s Wrong With Bebop Scales?

The thing that Bebop scales really miss for me is that the emphasis is on playing scales so if you have a G7 bebop scale then that is often something like this:

And there you have the chord tones on the beat and the stepwise melody which really connects with and spells out the chord:

But the lines you get with this are really boring:

And you don’t hear the things that, I think, make Bebop lines sound great like this:

That is not really in there with the Bop scales and music is about more than having chord tones on every downbeat.

To me, this relates to something that we are still learning to teach, Pat Metheny talks about it in the Rick Beato interview:

And, what Metheny says here is also one of the reasons that Barry Harris is so great at teaching Bebop: He teaches melody as well as harmony. Even if he doesn’t seem to have names for everything, then, as you will see, he does have strong concepts that catch this and help you develop your skills with Bebop melodies. This will come up again and again in this video!

Melody is About Direction

To me, this is about learning to hear and play lines that are not stuck on the heavy beats.

So you don’t change direction on beats 1 and 3 all the time:

This is about the rhythm in the melody, and you want to also change direction on the off-beats because that makes it lighter and a lot more interesting,

Check out how I am essentially playing the same notes but changing direction on the 2& and 4&:

But, of course, this is not something you can think about when you are playing, at least I can’t. Instead, you need another approach to get it into your playing, and you want to work on this because it is such an important part of the sound.

This video is really about my favorite trick with Bebop melodies, and I will get to that, but I think it is better to start with a simple approach: Triads and Enclosures.

Back to Triads

I am using this on a G7, so take this G major triad:

With the triad, it is easy to add chromatic enclosures around each note using a diatonic note above and a chromatic note below, so for G:

Which gives you this exercise:

This is not yet super exciting, but check this out:

Here, you have a line that isn’t just moving in one direction all the time and still makes sense with the chords,

there is a secret ingredient that I will get to, but keep in mind how far it is from this:

The secret is that when I have a melody moving down, so I start on G and go down the G7 arpeggio to F and then I want to go to D, but instead of going directly to D, I add the enclosure around the D, But, and this is pretty important: If the melody is moving down, then try to play the enclosure moving up, so in this case I skip down to C# and go back up to E before landing on D. So it jumps around more, but the whole thing still makes sense and has a natural flow.

It is very important to keep in mind that this is not a strict rule and the “only way” you can use enclosures, but you want to train yourself to hear melodies like this because they are more alive and they sound a lot less predictable and boring. Most of us need to work a bit to get them into our ears and our playing, but once you know that it works then you do start to hear them all over the place. A common one with Joe Pass is this one which I transposed to C major:

The reason why I remember this one was that I used to always mess it up when I had to play this solo out of his “Jazz guitar style” book.

You can take any triad and easily figure out the enclosures but don’t forget to start working on composing lines that use this so that you learn to hear how they sound. I often call them flipped enclosures because they move against the melodic direction, I am not sure if there is another name out there.

Let’s try to move to the first Barry Harris Concept which sort of works the same, but just has a lot more notes.

Barry Pivots

Pivot Arpeggios are a super strong Bebop trick and really help you get that sound across. I don’t think I ever heard Barry talk about why pivot arpeggios sound good, but he does teach them and use them a lot, both in his teaching and if you transcribe his solos. It’s actually pretty simple:

In the previous example, I was using an enclosure to change the direction of the melody:

But now I want to use an arpeggio to do that. If you start with the basic Cmaj7 arpeggio:

You turn it into a pivot arpeggio by playing the first note and then moving the remaining 3 notes down an octave:

This is a great way to get your lines to move around in a more interesting way, just listen to Grant Green, he does this ALL the time!
Here’s a phrase from the end of the bridge on I’ll Remember April:

And to translate this back to the G7 I started with: Let’s use the arpeggio on the 7th of the chord which is Fmaj7

and then you have a line that skips around but is still solid:

In this example, I am using another Barry Harris trick that is really powerful, but again you want to just start writing lines with pivot arpeggios and get used to how they sound to get it into your ears and into you playing.

What you might have noticed is in the 2nd half of the bar. Here, the melody is really just moving down, but then it goes back up to the D on beat 4.

That is actually another way to get a beautiful interval skip in there without sounding angular and unnatural. This is a Barry Harris half-step, and coming out of Barry Harris’ Chromatic scale.

Barry Harris Chromatic scale

I get that it may sound strange that I refer to the note D as a half step between C and B in the C major scale,

but that is actually how Barry’s chromatic scale works, and that is an amazingly powerful tool for some really fantastic Bebop phrasing:

You take the C major scale:

Barry came up with a way of adding a half step or chromatic note between all the notes in the scale, but you need a trick along the way.

Whenever there is a half-step available then you use that:

But when you move from E to F, or B to C where there is no half-step then you can use the scale note above the target, which would be G before F:

Continuing like this you end up with:

But it works if you play it descending as well:

There is an amazing extension to this which I will get to, but just the basic scale is already a great way to create some beautiful flowing bop lines. Here I am using it on a G7 with the half-step between E and F, and C and B:

So you have the G between F and E, and, then chromatic passing notes and again skipping up to D between C and B.

Super-charged Barry Harris

When Barry showed us this in the masterclass at the conservatory in the Hague, then he had us play the exercise but then he said something that I didn’t really understand at the time but which is incredibly powerful for  making some super Bebop lines:

“Any note can be a half-step.”

Why is this great? That works because you can use other notes that give you other interval skips and they can still sound great and keep the flow!

Let’s take the beginning of the previous example:

I am using the G as the half-step

but A works as well:

And the lower A with a huge interval skip sounds amazing:

And then you can do stuff like this using enclosures and chromatic scale together:

And remember that this was to not get stuck  playing solos like this

But, it actually gets even more crazy because there is actually another level to this one as well.

Chromatic Boosted Half-step

Now you have a way to add the interval skip as a Barry Harris’s half-step but you can actually add a chromatic leading note to your half-step as well, and I know it sounds a bit weird. But you go from this

and then the low A that we are using as a half-step can also get a chromatic leading note!

So with the chromatic boosted half-step,  which is clearly not a great name for this, then you can create a line like this:

Grant Is The Greatest

Maybe the most important part of getting this into your playing is that you start recognizing it in the solos of the people you listen to, and one of the best places to start with this is Grant Green because his solos are super-inspiring clear examples of this and they are not too fast to follow.

One solo that covers all the examples in this video is his solo on “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” which I break down in this video so that you can hear all of this in action, and get started using it yourself.

I Wish I Had Checked Out This Guy! His Solos Are Jazz 101 On Guitar

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Why Barry Harris has the Best Method for Chromatic Notes

In my experience, the best way to learn to use chromatic passing notes in your solos is using Barry Harris Chromatic Scale. But, you have to watch out that you get it to where it becomes really amazing because there is A LOT more in there that goes far beyond chromatic notes and deep into some amazing Bebop phrasing, and you DON’T want to miss that.

The Basic Exercise

What makes this a beautiful strategy is probably that it is actually incredibly simple but also very complete, let me show you what I mean.

If you take a C major scale:

The goal is to add a chromatic note between all the notes in the scale, and for the most part, that is super easy, barely an inconvenience, but there are a few “trouble spots”.

Between C & D, and D & E you can just add a chromatic note:

But between theE and The F it is a bit more tricky

Here you can take the scale note above F, G as shown above:

From F to G, G to A, A to B, it is easy:and

again since there is no room between B and C

So you can add the B D C:

Giving you this exercise:

And you can do exactly the same going down, adding a scale note whenever there isn’t a natural chromatic leading note.

This already sounds great, and a lot more interesting than just moving in half steps, but there is a lot more to get from this, especially with those exception spots.

It works for any scale!

You should also realize that this system will work with any scale so if you take A harmonic minor that could give you this:

The Advantage – Modular Bebop

“But what is so great about a bunch of chromatic notes?”

The first advantage is having a way to insert chromatic notes before every note in a scale. This is incredibly powerful because that means that you can come up with a short lick and move it around the scale and it will work for a lot of chords.

Check out this line with 2 half-steps and an arpeggio:

And now that you have this chromatic scale, it is possible to move the line to other chords and still keep the rhythm the same.

This is the original:

on Dm7 you get:

And for Em7:

Of course, you can take this through the entire scale, but you can hear how these all work.

And notice that the Em7 line also sounds great over a Cmaj7 so you are developing solid material for several chords working like this.

Rhythm = Phrasing!

The important thing here is that Barry’s chromatic scale keeps the rhythm intact when you move around phrases, because that means that it stays solid vocabulary, if it works on one chord it will work on the others as well, but this is just the basic system, and I see quite a few students get stuck with just using only this small part of is, which is actually a pity since it can create so many other beautiful things, even chords.

Taking It Up A Level

Until now the phrases have been pretty simple, but they work well and are easy to create:

And often the emphasis is on using Barry’s chromatic scale to create lines where chord tones are on the downbeat and chromatic notes or half-steps are on the offbeat, in fact, similar to the thinking in Bebop scales, just a lot more open so that you don’t only play scale melodies all the time.

You probably know I am not a huge fan of Bebop scales.

This example isn’t wrong, but you don’t want to stop here, if you listen to Bebop lines then they are not only changing direction on the heavy beat like this one does.

Parker did it like this

A typical Bebop Line like this Parker Lick changes direction in less predictable places and that is a huge part of why it sounds good: It is more surprising and exciting.

There are different ways to describe what is going on in a lick like this, but this exercise actually can help you get more of that sound in there.

On a side note, You also want to notice that Parker doesn’t mind having a leading note on the downbeat at the beginning of the phrase, that is NOT a rule!

And whenever I say that there are people in the comments who start complaining that I say that it IS a rule. It will be interesting if they now stopped the video to start typing angrily and didn’t see this part.

It’s All About That Exception

The secret weapon you have for making stronger melodies is primarily the exceptions in the exercise, which are an incredible tool, and much more powerful than you might think!

You might wonder “why is this useful?”, but it is actually difficult to get the melodies to have a natural flow and still move around in a surprising way without sounding like a scientific experiment, and in the Barry Harris Chromatic Scale that is already there, and you can get the melody to skip around without having to do any extra work.

Take this super simple melody

You can add a half step between the B and the A:

But if you add the half step between the C and the B then you need to skip up to a higher scale note and you get a much nicer melody:

And of course, you can use this together with other half-steps and get:

There is a lot more available! I will get to the crazy chords later, but let’s first create some really great Bop lines.

The Hidden Bonus

Whenever Barry talks about this exercise in the masterclasses, he also talks about how any note can be a half-step, and I want to show you how you can use that as a method for creating some really great bop lines.

And It is easy to get to work, but also has an odd side-effect. If you start with a basic descending line like this:

Then the version you already know sounds great like this:

But you can also turn it into an amazing melody with a large 6th interval by using the 3rd as a half step, so skipping down to a lower E.

And you can of course also just choose to add the leading note below the target:

While I don’t think that chromatic leading notes have to be on an offbeat then 99% of the time these types of lines sound better if the “half step” is not on a downbeat, but you can work around that by adding a leading note to the low-leading note:

And working on this, coming up with licks where you insert these melodic skips into your solos will really make your lines go up a few levels on the scale of Bebop goodness.

Going Too Far

These first examples were all based around the “exception” spots in the lines but maybe it also works in other places.

If you start with this:

and usually, you would just add a half-step between E and D

But here taking a lower chord tone also sound great:

And again adding leading notes to the leading note and a few other half steps you have a great line like this:

Which is a line that you can move around in the scale and turn into a Dm7-G7 lick and create this II V I:

I will go over some more examples on how to write lines using Barry’s Chromatic scale in this week’s Patreon video, but maybe that is anyway a topic for another video. Let me know in the comments

Going WAY Too Far

One thing that I remember from the 1st year I went to the piano classes in the Hague was how Barry talked about harmonizing this chromatic scale. He had gotten this idea from one of the piano players in the Hague, Erik Doelman, who sadly passed away a few years ago.

At the time, I took that exercise and tried to move it to guitar with drop2 voicings, and it was pretty much unplayable, but again, the idea is simple and you can sometimes find some nice things in there with some VERY dissonant chords.

Essentially you take a chord voicing and then just move each note through Barry’s chromatic scale.

For a Cmaj7 that looks and sounds like this:

I suspect that I did the same thing but started with a C6 voicing which complicates it a bit more, but as I said I don’t remember.

And this is a great exercise for your fretboard overview, exploring this exercise and you can find some pretty crazy chord sounds that can be fun to throw in there as passing chords.

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Overlooked Barry Harris Wisdom That Is Amazing Advice For Jazz

In the late 90s when I traveled from Copenhagen to The Hague to follow masterclasses with Barry Harris at the Royal conservatory I didn’t realize that I was going on a trip that would really change the rest of my life.

Going to that masterclass would change a lot about how I thought about music, and the trip would also make me move to another country to really go deep into the study of Jazz at the conservatory there. Of course, when you are in the middle of it you can’t know that while it is happening but it is fun to see how that works.

Barry Harris was of course an iconic Jazz teacher having taught everyone from Paul Chambers to John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, and his very complete approach to teaching Jazz has taught 1000s of people.

Some of the things I learned going to those masterclasses really changed a lot about how I was studying music and quite a few of those things are not what is mostly discussed when we talk about his teaching. That mostly stays with notes, scales, and chords. Those things are important of course, but if you take a step back and look at some of the overarching principles of how the lessons work then there are other things that are as important, and actually also relevant beyond Jazz as a style.

Practice Technique On Songs

Song with exercise moving around it (maybe sheet music showing arrows or analysis moving a phrase from one chord to the next)

A few bars with triplet arpeggios fading into licks (Often an exercise will naturally evolve into a lick just taking it through a song.)

The Masterclasses at the conservatory would often start with learning a song, so Barry would use a scale exercise to teach you the chord progression, even if most people usually knew the song already.

It would usually be starting with a basic scale exercise, just to make the chords clear and help you have a starting place for the lines that would be created later. Then it would gradually evolve bit by bit into a complete solo where you would learn some great vocabulary and melodic techniques along the way.

The advantage of linking scale practice to actual music is HUGE. Whatever you practice as an exercise is a lot closer to becoming a flexible part of your vocabulary if you immediately work on it on a song. Often an exercise will naturally evolve into a lick just taking it through a song.

Another way that this is also incredibly effective is in terms of taking a piece of vocabulary and then really exploring how to get the most out of it, and a lot of Barry Harris exercises and systems were really made to be able to do that easily, something that is not mentioned so often. When you move an exercise around a chord progression like that then you need skills for making it make sense on different chord types and really know what works and what doesn’t work on a chord.

And of course, Barry would keep it exciting by pushing the tempo up, sometimes even putting money on whether anyone could play it, oddly he never seemed to lose.

Write Licks And Write Solos

Strangely enough, the next exercise is pretty global. Most of the masterclasses I went to from Barry were centered around him teaching a song and writing a solo on that song.

In that way a masterclass would teach you:

  • The Song and The Chord Progressions
  • Vocabulary And How To Construct Lines
  • How To Deal With Smaller Progressions within the songs, something you can take to other songs

And that exercise is exactly what I think you should work on: Composing vocabulary on songs. For me, this was very useful for learning vocabulary and making it a flexible part of my playing, and using this as an exercise can easily be a big part of how you develop your vocabulary and explore how you can add new material to your solos.

Another place where writing material is useful is when you are dealing with a spot in a song that is difficult. Slowing it down and constructing lines, figuring out what really works, what fits together, and how to make it playable is the best way to go, and clearly also how Barry works his way through songs.

Write licks for the difficult part of the song:

Of course, you are probably not going to be able to write solos that are as good as what Barry seemed to produce in pretty much every class, but that doesn’t mean that composing lines won’t teach you something and help you get further, even if it is only by making you wonder why something doesn’t work.

  • The Song and The Chord Progressions
  • Vocabulary And Constructing Lines
  • How To Deal With Smaller Progressions within the songs

Turn Vocabulary Into Exercises

What all of these exercises have in common and what is one of the strongest aspects of this is that everything is about connecting every single note you practice to the solo you want to play and the songs you want to learn.

And actually, that is something that very often gets lost in planning practice and creating exercises.

It is not enough to play the exercises, you also need to link them to your repertoire and your vocabulary because you need to think about whether the exercises improve your playing.

For me, the shining example of this was the exercise of playing diatonic arpeggios with leading notes that I learned the first time I went to the Hague for the masterclasses, but there are a lot more examples in there. I covered a few of these in this video on scale exercises that are already Jazz licks, there is a link to that in the description.

Making your own exercises is a great way for you to develop your vocabulary and get better at constructing lines.

Very often these types of exercises are really just combinations of two or more exercises, for example, you can practice using Barry’s chromatic scale exercise:

and maybe you want to also work on being more flexible with your triads so you combine that with this exercise:

Together you get lines like this:

And that can be put to use like this:

This connection between what you want to play and the exercises you make for yourself is useful for being efficient, but it is also a lot more motivating and fun to work on things that you actually use in your playing.

If you want to explore some more examples of how you can work on this and see how Barry teaches that in one of his classes then check out this video where I show you how to construct scale exercises that are already Jazz vocabulary and actually use one of his examples as well.

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These Scale Exercises Are Immediately Great Jazz Licks

You want to use the things that you practice, so if your scale exercises are already solid vocabulary or solid licks then that is, of course, a lot easier. Practicing scales should not just be dry technical and boring. What you work on should really connect with what you want to play in your solos and be more than just moving your fingers. So let’s have a look at some great examples of exercises that are really just “Instant Bebop” vocabulary.

Practice Bebop Arpeggios, Not Just Chord Tones!

This is an important exercise! In my experience, the best way to practice arpeggios is as diatonic arpeggios in a scale like this.

That is of course, super useful but also in itself not that inspiring.

Let’s add two things that we love about Bebop and Jazz:

  1. Chromatic Notes to add tension and movement
  2. Interesting Rhythms to keep it grooving and alive

Let’s first work a bit with making the rhythm just a little bit more interesting.

One way to make the rhythm more energetic could be to play the arpeggio as an 8th note triplet like this:

This is something that immediately gives you licks like this:

and you can turn that into a scale exercise like this:

If you play this exercise then you can use this rhythm on all the chords and in a lot of different places, and it already starts to sound like music.

The Chromatic Leading Note

Another great way to use arpeggios that are “Instant Bebop” is combining the triplet with a chromatic leading note:

Of course, you want to work on this for all the arpeggios, so taking it through the scale gives you this:

And, besides sounding like Charlie Parker or George Benson out of the box, this means that you can make licks like this:

Here I am combining the Cmaj7 with some chromaticism, something that both Parker and Benson do all the time.

You can also put it to use on a G7:

There are a few things you want to learn from this example:

  1. The arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord is great (here it is Bø over G7)
  2. Leading notes can sound great on the downbeat like the Eb on beat 3
  3. Large intervals in a scale run sound great! (I’ll return to that later in the video)

And all you have to practice is playing the arpeggio as a triplet and add a chromatic leading note before the first note. Before we move on to a great Barry Harris Exercise then don’t forget that the descending arpeggio sounds great as well, a simple version without the leading note gives the 1st note of the arpeggio a nice accent like this:

Barry Harris Knows A Few Tricks!

The first exercise was something that I learned from Barry Harris when he was giving masterclasses at the conservatory in the Hague, this next exercise is also from those masterclasses. It is what Barry calls pivot arpeggios, and what often is also called octave displacement, but the way Barry shows the exercise really already makes it like practicing building blocks for great licks.

The concept is really simple: First, you play the arpeggio and end by going down one step in the scale.

The second part is the same melody, but now you move the phrase down an octave except for the first note.

Let’s translate this to the guitar, an easy place to play it would be F major like this:

I imagine you can already hear how this already just sounds like a short lick you are moving around, and actually, both the standard way of playing the arpeggio and the pivot version is great as a line.

here’s a II V I in F major:

And it is a solid option for an Fmaj7 line as well:

And as I mentioned, you can also use the “un-pivoted” version as a great way to frame or target a note with an arpeggio like I am targeting the 3rd of the Gm7 in this line:

And cleary Barry knows his stuff because the triplet version of this melody is also a great option:

Until now it has been about getting arpeggios to become amazing Bebop lines, but you can actually also work on this with simpler scale exercises.

Bebop Boost Your Scale Runs

This exercise is just playing the scale in diatonic 6th intervals, a really pretty sound in itself but not immediately an amazing Bebop line.

I guess this is the least obvious exercise, but as you will see it is incredibly useful!

The reason why it doesn’t sound like a lick is that you are playing so many of them next to each other, so you need to spread them out a bit and add them to something like a scale run.

And this is what I used in the previous examples like ex 3 and ex 4, the concept is pretty simple. If you have a scale melody then see if you can add an extra note when you are on a chord tone. In Example 14 that was on the root which adds an E. In example 3 it was the 3rd down to the 6th, and placing it at the end of the line makes it even more dramatic.

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